Note: An updated version of this article has been posted here: http://mostlytech2012.wordpress.com/2011/12/01/connected-home-best-practices/
I made all of the edits in my new tech blog because the formatting is much more flexible there.
Choosing the Right Digital Media Player
There is no single digital media player that is good at everything. Each connected device has its own strengths and weaknesses. Some are much better than others, so make sure to do your homework before purchasing one. This document should help to steer you in the right direction.
1. Try to purchase products that have been DLNA-certified, because they undergo a higher level of testing than other connected devices. You can search for DLNA-certified products here: http://www.dlna.org/products/
2. Not all DLNA-certified devices can be externally controlled using your PC or mobile device. Try to buy products that can accept media that you push or beam from a PC or mobile device, or pull from a media server. You can find a list of devices that meet this requirement here:http://www.tinyurl.com/twonkydmrs
3. Try to purchase devices that have both wired and wireless connections. This gives you the flexibility to switch from wireless to wired if you have problems. Make sure your device can support advanced encryption like WPA or WPA2 because it’s more secure.
4. Keep current with firmware updates. These updates can fix problems you are experiencing.
5. A good media server can stream almost all media formats. Unfortunately most game consoles, connected TVs and Blu-ray players only play a limited number of media formats. Because of this, you're sometimes better off purchasing a low-cost digital media player which supports a much wider range of formats.
6. Before purchasing a game console over a dedicated digital media player, you should be aware of their limitations:
- - You cannot beam media to the Sony PS3 or Nintendo Wii from your PC or mobile device.
- - Xbox 360 can accept pushed media, but only when it’s in Media Center Extender mode and you have a Windows 7, Vista or XP Media Center Edition PC running on your network.
- - Game consoles do not support as many formats as other digital media players.
- - Xbox 360 does not display all of the items in the Twonky navigation tree. As a result, you won’t see things like By Folder, Artist Index, Artist Album, Genre Index, Genre/Artist or Internet feeds like SHOUTcast, YouTube, Flickr, Picasa Web or PhotoBucket.
7. What to look for in a digital photo player:
- - Ideally, you should have a digital media player that supports photos and video everywhere you have a television. If your TV doesn’t do this, try to find a digital media player that has an HDMI output.
- - Make sure your digital media player can automatically scale your photos so they appear full-screen. Not all DLNA-certified TVs or digital media players do this.
- - The best photo players have nice transitions in-between photos and let you play music in the background if desired (e.g. Sony PS3, Xbox 360). Xbox 360 has a nice zoom transition effect on photos.
- - At this time, there are no digital media players other than Apple TV, that can display a continuous slideshow of photos pushed from a PC or mobile device. In most cases, a black or blue screen appears in-between each photo. For this reason, you’ll want to pull your photos from a media server and start all slideshows using the remote that came with your digital media player.
- - If you want a digital photo frame, try to find a networked one that has both wired and wireless support. This will allow you to place it anywhere in your home and easily move it from room to room. Make sure your networked digital photo frame works with media servers like TwonkyServer.
8. What to look for in a digital video player:
- - Don’t assume that all digital media players can stream true 1080 high definition video. Some cannot do this without stuttering problems.
- - Do not assume your connected TV can play all media formats. Most DLNA-certified TVs can only play MPEG-2, AVCHD and a few others. Many connected TVs and digital media players can’t play 3GP, QuickTime, DivX, MKV and YouTube videos. Devices that play most of these formats include Samsung TVs, Xbox 360 (in Media Center Extender mode), WD TV Live and WD TV Live Hub.
9. What to look for in a digital music player:
- - Ideally, you should have a digital media player that supports music everywhere you have a stereo.
- - Don’t assume that all digital media players can accept music playlists that are beamed from PCs or mobile devices. Some only allow one song to be sent at a time.
- - Don’t assume all connected devices can have their volume changed externally. Most stereo receivers disable this feature (e.g. Denon, Onkyo, etc).
- - Look for audio digital media players that can be grouped -- so you can have the same music playing in different rooms of your home. Examples of players that can do this: Linksys Wireless music players, Linn multi-room music systems, Philips Streamium networked media players, Sonos ZonePlayers, etc.
- - If you subscribe to a music service like Rhapsody, make sure your digital music players work directly with your service, so you don’t have to use Rhapsody’s PC software. Examples of devices that include Rhapsody support include: Denon AVR receivers, Linksys wireless music players, Philips Streamium NP Series networked media players, Sonos ZonePlayers, etc.
- - If you have a great stereo and speaker system, you may want to get an audio-only device with good converters and connect to your receiver digitally (e.g. Linn products, Sonos Zone Players).
1. Wired networking tips:
- - Connect your media players to your network using a wired connection whenever you have a choice. Wired networks are easier to setup and capable of much higher throughput. This means they are less likely to have stuttering problems when streaming high-definition video. They also don't "drop" and have range problems like wireless connections sometimes do.
- - Use Cat 5e or Cat 6 network patch cords and cabling if possible. They cost about the same as regular Cat 5 cable and may enable faster data transfer over a Gigabit Ethernet network.
- - Do not connect any of your PCs or connected devices to the "Internet" or "Uplink" ports on your router or switch.
- - If you want to stream HD video over the Internet, check your Internet connection speeds to make sure your connection is fast enough. Most HD Internet movie streaming sites recommend your download speed is at least 3.0 Mbps. You can check this using your computer’s browser and websites like http://www.speedtest.net.
- - Don’t back up your PCs or download large files while you’re trying to stream HD video on your network. This can cause the frame rate to drop or the video to buffer.
2. Wireless-related networking tips:
- - If you have problems with wireless devices on your network, consider power-line networking alternatives like HomePlug or Powerline AV (e.g. Western Digital WD Livewire Powerline AV Network Kit). These devices are more reliable than most wireless routers and are also capable of higher data rates. However, they are not without problems. They sometimes have their own issues with split-phase wiring and surge protectors. If you're using HomePlug, avoid using an AC power strip and plug the unit directly into the wall, since the power strip’s surge protection circuit can cause problems.
- - If you must use wireless, make sure your wireless access point is password-protected and you’re using the most advanced security your devices will support (e.g. WPA-PSK or WPA2).
- - Try to place your wireless router in a location where it is as close to your media players as possible. Even time the signal has to pass through a wall it drops in strength.
- - Be aware that cordless phones, baby monitors, wireless security cameras and microwave ovens can all interfere with wireless networks. If possible, purchase devices that don’t use the same band(s) as your wireless router.
3. Router-related networking tips:
- - Having devices connected to both wired and wireless networks at the same time can cause problems. If you can’t see your media server or some media players on your network, this could be the cause.
- - Allow your router or switch to use DHCP; it makes setup easier. Don’t use fancy network setups with multiple subnets and hubs. Doing so can introduce latencies that cause problems with DLNA.
- - If you want to be able to stream multiple high-def videos at once, make sure there are no 10Mbps routers or switches on your LAN. Use 1000Mbps Gigabit Ethernet switches instead. They are now surprisingly affordable.
- - If you want to access your media remotely, consider buying a router than supports UPnP configuration.
- - Some routers and switches work better than others for media streaming. Problems with media playback stopping or stuttering sometimes go away when a new router or switch is used.
- - Changing router settings can also sometimes improve media streaming performance. This is only recommended for advanced users. Before changing any router setting, make sure to write down the old setting, in case you need to go back to it.
- a. If you have a busy network, collisions can occur that reduce your throughput. Lowering the fragmentation threshold can improve performance by reducing re-transmissions. Try setting the fragmentation threshold to 1,000 bytes and see if that improves media streaming. Be aware that using smaller packet adds extra overhead, so you shouldn’t set this value too low. Setting the threshold to the largest value (2,346 bytes) effectively disables fragmentation. Do not change this setting if you are not having media streaming problems.
- b. Another parameter that some users experiment with is the UPnP Advertisement Period. Some claim lowering this parameter can cause devices to appear faster on the network.
Media Server & Storage Suggestions
1. If possible, you should store your media on a low-power, always-on device like a network-attached storage device (NAS) with an embedded media server (e.g. Buffalo, QNAP, Thecus, WD, etc.). Some routers and set top boxes can also be used with a USB memory stick or external hard disk drive. Beware of older or inexpensive NAS devices. Some of these have memory limitations or CPUs that don't have enough power to handle very large media collections. It's also much harder to set up a NAS to perform transcoding than a computer.
2. Avoid using media servers like Windows Media Player 11, iTunes or Rhapsody. Make sure your media server is a DLNA 1.5-certified reference server like TwonkyServer. It is faster, more reliable and supports more formats and devices than other media servers.
3. If you’re using a Mac or PC as a media server, make sure your virus scanner is not a CPU hog. This can cause problems like skipping during playback of high-definition video.
4. Avoid running a software firewall like ZoneAlarm, unless you understand how to configure it so it won't cause problems. In order to configure software like this, you sometimes need to know which ports need to be open.
- - TwonkyServer uses UDP ports 1030, 1900, 9080 and TCP port 9000. If port 9000 is already in use, it selects the first available free port after 9000.
- - The local TwonkyManager player uses port 9020.
- - The TwonkyManager controller uses port 9021
5. Avoid storing media on a network share. It’s better to share content from a hard drive in the same device where the media server resides. Network shares increase the traffic on your network and can be unreliable when they are not always online.
6. Don’t nest your media too deeply under many levels of folders. Doing so can slow down media scanning and increase the size of your media database.
7. Be careful which folder you select as your watched folder. Do not select a folder the operating system constantly updates, like a Temp folder, bit-torrent download folder, or the Windows System folder. A watched folder with lots of changes can slow down your media server.
1. Perform regular backups of all of your media or make sure it's copied to another hard drive.
2. Avoid buying copy-protected media when the same content exists in a legal, unprotected form. Unprotected media is superior, because any device can play it and you’ll never have to worry about losing your licenses.
3. As you create your digital media library, try to use the formats that are supported by all DLNA-certified devices. This includes JPEG photos, LPCM audio and MPEG-2 video. MP3 audio, WMV video and MPEG4 video are not guaranteed to work, but are supported by most DLNA-certified devices as well.
4. When ripping audio CDs, choose high-bit rate MP3 or linear audio (WAV) over AAC and FLAC, because not every device can play these formats. If you want to use lossless audio, consider linear WAV files over other lossless formats because almost every device supports it.
5. It is essential that all of your music files have accurate ID3 tags. Your media server uses these tags to create its navigation trees. If any of your music files are missing artist, genre or album tags, those artists/genres/albums won’t appear in the navigation tree. You can still access that media from the song list, but it’s more time consuming.
Tip: Software is available, like “Tag & Rename,” which can use your music file names to add ID3 tags for you.
6. Avoid entering or editing metadata using media management software like iTunes or Windows Media Player. Some of these programs only add the metadata and album art to their local database and not the file itself. It’s much better to enter metadata directly into an ID3 or EXIF tag, so it can be imported by software on any Mac or PC.
7. Although it is not essential, it's a good idea to create separate folders for each artist in your music library. Each artist folder should have separate folders for each album. Each album folder should contain a JPEG file for the album cover. Normally this file is called "folder.jpg". Your media server will use this file to display album art. You can also embed album art in each music file in the ID3 tag.
8. It's a good idea to create separate folders for each year in your My Photos folder. Inside each year folder, you should have subfolders for different photo albums (e.g. Hawaii Trip). Your media server will use these folders to make it easier to locate your photos.
9. It's also a good idea to use software like Windows Live Photo Gallery to add tags to your photos. Although it's time consuming, you should try to rename your individual photos from their camera issued names (e.g. DSC04945).
10. Pre-rotate your pictures before you copy them to your shared folder. The easiest way to do this is to view them by thumbnails and right-click on the photos that need to be rotated.
This article contains the opinions of the author(s) that do not necessarily reflect those of PacketVideo. Thanks to Rick Schwartz, Christian Gran, Jim Pfeifer, Angela Scheller, Cindy Vivoli, Ken Clapp and pcfe for contributing to this article.
Copyright 2009-2012 by Rick Schwartz and PacketVideo. All rights reserved. Please do not publish this list elsewhere without permission.